Tape of confrontation played

Jurors in the O.J. Simpson armed robbery trial on Friday heard five secret recordings made in the days surrounding the alleged holdup of two sports memorabilia dealers, including a six-minute clip that captured the Hall of Fame running back and five other men storming a Palace Station hotel room.

“Don’t let nobody out of this room,” Simpson said on the recording before turning his attention to dealers Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley. “You think you can steal my (expletive) and sell it?”

Other men in Simpson’s group, including one with a handgun, are heard yelling at the room’s occupants.

“You … lucky you ain’t in L.A. or your ass would be laying on the floor,” said Michael McClinton, who has pleaded guilty to robbery and has agreed to testify against Simpson and co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart.

Both men face armed robbery, kidnapping and other felony charges in connection with the Sept. 13, 2007, incident.

The recordings were made by Thomas Riccio, an auctioneer who arranged the meeting in hopes of helping Simpson retrieve one-of-a-kind items they believed had been stolen by Simpson’s former manager.

During his second day on the witness stand Friday, Riccio testified that he thought Fromong was bringing a large collection of Simpson family photos to the deal. He said Simpson was a little disappointed when he saw Fromong’s collection did not include any family photos but was impressed with the game footballs and other unique items of his memorabilia.

“There was some unbelievable stuff mixed in with a bunch of junk,” Riccio told the jury. “This stuff belongs in the Hall of Fame or O.J.’s trophy room, which is where it was.”

When Riccio asked Beardsley about the missing photos, Beardsley told him they belonged to a musician manager in San Jose, Calif., and would be sold in a separate deal.

Beardsley and Riccio also made small talk and discussed the pending deal while waiting for Fromong to arrive. Beardsley quizzed Riccio about the “buyer” he was bringing to the meeting.

“It’s not O.J., is it?” Beardsley said.

“He’s not O.J.” Riccio responded with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Simpson and five other men were headed to the hotel. Their plan was to have Simpson friend Charles Ehrlich pose as a rich fan who collected Simpson memorabilia. Ehrlich was supposed to verify that the items were Simpson’s and call the others into the room to confront the dealers and call police.

Riccio said he scrapped the plan because he thought Ehrlich’s “ghetto accent” would jeopardize their operation. When the men arrived, Riccio suggested they all go in at once.

Riccio let the men into his room, and things seemed to be going well, he said.

But the operation went haywire when McClinton pulled out a gun and started “hopping around with the gun in his hand, barking orders,” Riccio testified.

“This is overkill. Big time overkill,” he said. “They didn’t need to do it this way. Didn’t need to bring this many people. Didn’t need to bring guns. They were getting the stuff back.”

On the recording, Fromong said he bought the memorabilia from Mike Gilbert, Simpson’s former agent and the one who “took it” from Simpson.

After the men left the room with tens of thousands of dollars in memorabilia, Beardsley immediately accused Riccio of setting them up. Then he called police.

“We were just robbed at gunpoint by O.J. Simpson,” he told the dispatcher.

Beardsley grew increasingly frustrated on the phone by what he believed was a slow police response.

“Why don’t (we) just call the news,” Beardsley said. “We’ll see (how) much faster they can get here than this police department.”

Riccio also secretly recorded phone calls with Simpson the day after the incident.

On the recordings, Simpson told Riccio he didn’t see anyone with a gun and never told anyone to bring a gun.

“I told everybody to back off,” Simpson said. “I said back off man, and then I talked to the guys.”

During one conversation, Simpson called Riccio the hero of the event because he could have profited off it but didn’t. That conversation came before Riccio sold the six-minute clip from the room to celebrity news Web site TMZ.com.

At the end of the final recorded phone conversation, Simpson tried to reassure Riccio, who was worried about news outlets digging up his criminal past, which he described as a teenage firecracker incident and a deal for stolen memorabilia that he didn’t know was stolen.

“Monday they’ll talk about it, and then it be gone,” Simpson said on the recording. “I’ve been through it. Trust me.”

Before Riccio took the stand Friday, jurors were secretly bused to Palace Station to view Room 1203. District Judge Jackie Glass ordered the field trip after deciding a mock room built in the courtroom basement was insufficient, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said.

The jurors viewed the room in pairs. One alternate juror reached atop the armoire where Riccio had hidden his audio recorder, but most simply scanned the room and left.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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